US warns Israel of Gaza power vacuum and wants post-war plan

Boys watch smoke billowing during Israeli strikes east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday. (AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

The U.S. warned Israel it risks creating a power vacuum across swaths of Gaza and urged the country’s leaders to focus more on post-war planning for the Palestinian territory.

“We can’t have anarchy and a vacuum that’s likely to be filled by chaos,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Wednesday during a trip to Kyiv, Ukraine.


He spoke as Israeli forces battle in areas of northern Gaza — including the Jabaliya refugee camp near Gaza City — that were cleared of Hamas fighting units months ago, underscoring the group’s ability to reassemble. That’s led to some criticism of Israel’s tactics of rapidly moving troops out of areas when Hamas has been routed.

Part of the problem is that Israel lacks the manpower to hold and administer large parts of Gaza. The country of just under 10 million people mobilized a record 350,000 reservists soon after the war started in October — something that strained its economy. It released most of them late last year or in early 2024, leaving around 150,000 regular troops in the military.

“You have to clear and hold,” former U.S. General David Petraeus, who commanded armies in Iraq and Afghanistan, said at the Qatar Economic Forum. “If you don’t keep the enemy from reconstituting and keep it from getting back into the population, this is going to happen endlessly. You’ll just clear and have to re-clear and re-clear.”

Petraeus, speaking to Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait, said the U.S. experience of urban warfare in Iraq showed you had to “keep the enemy away from the people” by ensuring aid got to devastated areas quickly and by maintaining security when fighting stopped.

He cited Al Shifa hospital, one of the largest in Gaza, and said Israel should have held onto it after battling Hamas and turned it into “a great medical center.”

Blinken said the fighting in the north of Gaza in recent days underscored the need for a “day after” strategy. Petraeus, who was in Israel about a month ago and regularly speaks to serving officials there, echoed those words, saying: “I don’t see a mid-term plan.”

Israel said it doesn’t want to occupy Gaza and has suggested Arab countries can provide peacekeepers when the war ends. But no government has said it will consider that.

“Nobody wants to take over territory that’s essentially ruled by thugs right now, gang members and remnants of Hamas,” said Petraeus, who’s a partner at private equity giant KKR &Co.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday said the country should establish an alternative government to Hamas in Gaza and stressed he will not agree to Israel’s military taking charge.

In an unusually bold comment by a senior official on post-war planning, Gallant challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rule out military occupation, which he told reporters would be a “negative and dangerous option for Israel.”

Netanyahu rejected Gallant’s demands. He earlier told CNBC he favors “a non-Hamas civilian administration there with an Israeli military responsibility.”

Israel launched a bombardment of Gaza after fighters from Hamas — designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union — swarmed into southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostages. Israel’s air campaign and a ground assault have killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

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